Be Wary of the Google Chrome for iPhone Dream

Delighted Chrome fans, don't get over-excited about Google's announcement that it will offer a Chrome app for the iPhone.

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 Delighted Chrome fans, don't get over-excited about Google's announcement that it will offer a Chrome app for the iPhone. Though the iOS version has features that make Google's browser so much more popular than Apple's (Chrome has 25 percent of the desktop market, while Safari only has 8), the caveats make the app less appealing than the desktop version. The nice features include synchability across all devices, not just Apple ones, Chrome's tabbing, the single address bar and anonymous browsing. But even those details might not make it worthwhile for iPhone users for the following reasons.

  • You can't use Chrome as a default browser. Though some phone browsing happens by going to the browser, a good chunk of it happens through other programs. Even with Chrome iOS downloaded, clicking a link from an e-mail or Facebook will direct users to Safari. Perhaps users will opt for a dual-browser life, shuttling from one Internet browser to the next, like children caught between two parents in a divorce. Or maybe not. Daring Fireball's John Gruber takes an optimistic stance, suspecting this move will pressure Apple to allow default third party browsers. "I can’t see the angle behind not allowing a third-party app from the App Store to be specified as your preferred default over Mobile Safari. (Same goes for email.)," he writes. Considering the Apple-Google maps wars happening, we don't see Apple letting Google's browser take over their phone.
  • Remember what happened with the Gmail app. Speaking of e-mail. Everyone got all excited when Google announced its Gmail app for iPhone. Due to bugs and general outrage, Google had to pull the app. It's now back. But it's not a good sign for the impending Chrome app.
  • It won't be as fast as Safari. The way the iPhone works, it only lets Safari have its super-fast Javascript engine, as Buzzfeed's John Herrman explains. "Mobile Safari, the default browser in iOS, uses a Javascript engine called Nitro, which in turn uses a technology called 'just-in-time' compilation, or JIT, to execute scripts more quickly ... JIT makes Nitro faster, and Nitro makes Mobile Safari faster," he writes. "But other apps that want to include a browser function... don't get Nitro."

Chrome loyalists might still go for the app. But those look like compelling reasons not to jump the Safari ship. As of this post, the app hasn't yet shown up in the App Store. But Google said it should show up sometime this afternoon. Then we can really test it out.

Update 5:15 p.m.: The app is now available in iTunes and in the iPhone app store, so we took it for a spin. Though BuzzFeed's John Herrman has confirmed his slow hypothesis, just using the app, it didn't feel particularly slow -- at least with some regular web browsing. We also didn't encounter any bugs while surfing around. It still can't act as the phone's default browser, however.

As for the browser itself, it has those nice Chrome features we love. The app allows browsers to keep a bunch of tabs, and view up to three at a time. You can access the tabs by clicking that little box icon in the upper right hand corner. We have five tabs going right now. And we're looking at those three. Just swipe up and down to flip through the other ones.

As for the browser part, it has that beloved singular address bar for both search and URL input.

Overall, we think we'll use this app in lieu of Safari for casual phone web browsing, if we want to look up a celebrity name or movie trivia on the fly.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.